Aaron Rodgers, his mobility greatly diminished by a strained left calf and operating on a minimal amount of practice time, had a masterful second half in helping the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-21 on Sunday to advance to next week’s NFC Championship Game at Seattle.
Rodgers finished 24-of-35 for 316 yards and three touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 125.4. In the second half, Rodgers tore apart the Cowboys to the tune of 15-of-22 for 226 yards and two scores, good for a rating of 132.0.
“I thought he played huge today,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “His performance in the second half, everybody wants to compare performances, that’s as good as it gets. What he’s done in this stadium the last two games with the condition of his calf is spectacular.”
After the Packers punted on their opening possession of the second half, they went field goal, touchdown and touchdown to take the lead. Then, needing to run out the final 4:06, Rodgers completed passes for first downs to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb to clinch the victory.
Rodgers and the offense came out hot, driving 60 yards to the opening touchdown, with Eddie Lacy doing much of the heavy lifting. On the scoring play, Rodgers saw a void in the middle of the defense and tried running for a touchdown. The calf, however, put the brakes on that decision, and Rodgers fired a bullet to Andrew Quarless, who beat linebacker Bruce Carter on a short post to the back of the end zone.
“The touchdown to Andrew was a great example of that,” Rodgers said about his limited mobility. “I feel like with my mobility -- normal mobility -- I would just have been able to run that one in. But as I moved forward in the pocket, I realized that I couldn’t do a whole lot. Thankfully, Andrew flashed on me, and I was able to hit him.”
From there, the offense went in a funk. On the second possession, Rodgers was sacked and stripped with the offense in scoring position. On the third, Rodgers’ deep pass went through Jordy Nelson’s hands. Late in the half, though, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a gain of 31 on second-and-long to get the Packers a key field goal just before halftime to pull within 14-10. The Packers tacked on another field goal midway through the third quarter after Julius Peppers stripped DeMarco Murray, making it 14-13 midway.
When Dallas scored a touchdown to take a 21-13 lead and the Packers’ season teetering on the brink, Rodgers and Co. rose to the occasion. The last three possessions went for 90 yards and a touchdown, 80 yards and a touchdown and 35 yards to kill the clock. Those 205 yards made up almost half of the game total 425.
“Maybe I called better plays for him or something,” coach Mike McCarthy said of the second-half revival. “Really, if you look at the game, it was two different halves. We only had three series there in the first half, heavy run, play-action pass, and the fourth drive was the 2-minute. I just felt that once we opened things up and he was able to get into some rhythm throws and move around, he played like Aaron Rodgers. Just an incredible game for Aaron, especially for what he's been through the last two weeks.”
On third-and-15, Rodgers connected on a crossing route with rookie receiver Davante Adams, who made two defenders miss en route to a 46-yard touchdown to pull the Packers within 21-20. And on the go-ahead touchdown, Rodgers moved to his left and fired a missile to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers for a 13-yard score between two Dallas defenders. Rodgers emphatically celebrated the touchdown by breaking out his “championship belt” celebration.
“The guys did a good job of getting open,” Rodgers said. “The line gave me a lot of time. I expect to be accurate. It’s just a matter of throwing the ball on balance. And, luckily, with it being my left leg, the rhythm is not really affected by the calf. It’s just the mobility. So I was able to throw some balls on rhythm and put ‘em where I wanted.”
If a playoff bye week couldn’t cure Rodgers’ calf for the Cowboys, then he surely won’t be 100 percent for the Seahawks.
“I never thought that,” Rodgers said about being healthy for Dallas. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our training staff. They spent a lot of hours with me this week. They did a great job of getting me ready. My acupuncturist, as well. She really helps. I’d like to say thanks to all of the fans and medical people out there who sent in ideas over the hotline. There was some really interesting ones (laughs). Kind of wish at some point we could release some of the emails and messages we got, but I know they’re all in good faith there, so I appreciate the ideas. But, ultimately, it came down to our training staff, and they helped me get through this one.”
And at least one more. At Seattle and against the baddest defense on the planet.
“I think I've got 120 minutes left in me,” Rodgers said. “So I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I can play all those minutes.”
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